Democracy Delivers? Broken promises and unstated policies


It’s great to live in a democracy, right? From the moment we are old enough to grasp the concept, the idea that we live in the freest of all possible worlds is drummed into us. From the pages of our school history books to the celluloid magic of our favourite movies, our way of life is portrayed as the ideal, one which we must preserve at all costs and, if possible, export to the less fortunate.

Sounds great, but have you ever stopped to think about how much power we really have in making the big decisions that affect our lives? Well, who voted for the bail out of the bankers and speculators who were responsible for the depths of the economic crisis? Who voted for the IMF/ECB deal that ties us to years of debt and austerity? Who voted for cuts in social welfare or public sector wages? If these policies were put to the public in referenda would they have passed?

You certainly won’t find any of these policies in the 2007 election manifestos of either Fianna Fail or the Green Party. What you will find is a series of un-kept promises. Fianna Fail’s manifesto promised to increase the state pension to at least €300 by 2012 and to remove the cohabitation restriction on One Parent Family Payment, replacing it with a “new family friendly allowance” while the Green Party promised to “benchmark the lowest social welfare payment for a single person at 50% of average income”. Instead, increases in the State Pension have ground to a halt, while the One Parent Family Payment has been slashed in line with Jobseekers Benefit.

Of course, Fianna Fail and the Greens might argue that those promises were made under different economic circumstances. Fianna Fail’s manifesto explained that all of these improvements were based on “conservative assumptions” such as 4.5% per annum economic growth, 4.5% per annum growth in earnings and growth in employment of 2.5% per annum. However, if the circumstances changed so radically, then why was a new set of policies not put before us to vote on? How come there was no way of removing from office a government who got their economic predictions so horribly wrong? And can any of the new parties of government be trusted to do things differently?

The reality is that our political system is democratic only in the most minimal sense. Rather than voting on the big issues, we get to vote every five years (most of us spend about four hours of our entire life voting!) for the career politicians we want to make those decisions. They don’t need to stick to election promises and they are free to think up all sorts of new policies that were never even mentioned.  They are advised by ideologically motivated “experts” and encouraged by corporate donations, legal or otherwise.

This is why anarchists advocate direct and participatory democracy, whereby we’d get to vote on the actual issues rather than for people to make our decisions. Where we had to vote for individuals to implement decisions it would be on a delegate basis with a strict mandate and with the right to remove that individual if they did not follow that mandate.

We don’t stop there either. As anti-capitalists we believe that the means of production and distribution should be socially owned so as well as being able to decide what to do with the Corrib gas field and Shannon airport, we’d get to vote on what scientific projects get funded, what standards we wanted for food safety, what kind of homes we need and many other issues we have absolutely no say on right now.